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On red soil

Foleni

“Foleni” is the Swahili word for traffic jam, and it is used daily. I know I wrote about the traffic chaos that ensues every afternoon when I catch the daladala home – yesterday it only took me 1½ hours! – so I’ll let someone else talk about the organised mess now instead (and prove my point).

Joachim Buwembo has written a very funny and completely truthful commentary on being stuck in the Dar es Salaam trafficy jam. He puts in comical terms the absurdity and annoyance thousands of us face everyday in this city, and I find this compulsory reading for anyone with two spare minutes at hand (or hours, if you’re stuck in a car in Dar).

Blood pressure and self-loathing in the Dar es Salaam traffic jam

My mother must have been a liar, and now I have the evidence. I am seated in a very hot car, having switched off the AC when it started blowing hot air and rolled down the windows.
It didn’t help much and I am drenched in sweat.

From under the passenger’s seat, I pull out the laptop, open it and start writing this. All the cars around me are motionless, but the engines are purring. They don’t switch off engines in Dar es Salaam, even while fuelling at the pump. It’s a culture.

I remember all those years when mum used to tell her friends that I was a clever boy. Do clever people sit in a motionless metal box for two hours, sweating and getting very angry, running up their blood pressure?

The lying old woman — she was not so old then — used to tell everyone in the village that even though I was small-bodied and could not play football, the cleverest boy around was her Buwembo.

(We do not have family names, and however large a family is, no two people in it can have the same surname. Poor Europeans who are not familiar with that large country called Africa find this strange.)

My mother had other accomplices in perpetrating the lies about my alleged intelligence — my teachers.

One of these lying teachers even pinned a composition I wrote on the notice board, to show the boys in higher classes what a good composition should read like.

My mother and those teachers should now be exposed for the wrong portrayal they made of me.

If I had been clever, would I have wasted so much of my sponsor’s money buying this car, when it cannot outpace a fat cripple in Dar?

Had I been as clever as my mum claims, would I not have used the money to build a little sauna at my residence, because that is what I ended up getting — a hot, stationery chamber in which I sweat profusely?

The only difference would be that in the home sauna I would be properly undressed and the shower would be nearby.

“Bana kwako, mwanangu,” someone is shouting from my left. It is a dala dala driver, requesting that I pull my car to the right so he can illegally squeeze by and proceed.

He is quite a young man, casually calling me his son. But in reward for his refusal to sit around like me when he has work to do, I inch towards the middle of the road and he passes, giving me a thumbs-up salute.

The sun is very hot at eleven o’clock. My appointment is at 11.30. Had I been clever, I would have set off four hours earlier for this four-kilometre journey, not a mere two hours earlier.

You can find the article here, originally published in The East African 18.10.2010.

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